The 1-2 pick and roll saves the day

One of the coolest things about the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s win in Game 3 wasn’t simply Derek Fisher’s Big Moment (alternately titled “A Story So Good Even Sportswriters Can’t Screw It Up”), but how Fisher was freed for most of his points down the stretch.

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The Lakers broke out the two-guard high screen and roll Tuesday night, helping spring Derek Fisher for a series of clutch baskets.

Pressed by a more aggressive Celtics D, the Lakers offense shriveled in the third quarter and into the fourth as their lead, once as large as 17, dwindled down to one. They had to find better looks, which they did, but not in a way anyone expected: The 1-2 pick and roll.

Coming out of a timeout at the 5:40 mark, the Lakers quickly got the ball to Fisher at the top of the key. Kobe Bryant, guarded by Ray Allen, came up from Fisher’s left to set the screen, rubbing out Rajon Rondo and preventing a surprised Allen from showing or switching. Fish turned the corner and pulled up for the clean jumper just ahead of a closing Paul Pierce.

On the next trip, the Lakers try it again. Twice, actually. First going left, then coming back right. This time, Rondo is able to escape both Bryant screens and stick with Fisher, aided by Allen who showed on the screen to slow Fish down. The Lakers, though, reverse the ball and do, in fact, get an open look (I’d say a good look, but at this point in the postseason I’m not sure a corner three from Ron Artest qualifies).

It doesn’t fall.

But rather than get away from the set, the Lakers come right back with it. After Artest forces a turnover on Glen Davis, with about 4:40 remaining Fisher again uses a Kobe screen moving to his left. This time, Allen can’t slow him down as he turns the corner. Fish gets penetration and he hits the floater off the glass as Rondo trails behind. The Lakers go up by five.

At the 4:00 mark, after Paul Pierce hit a triple to close the gap to two, the Lakers try it one more time. Again, Bryant sets up to Fisher’s left. This time, though, Allen and Rondo switch, and it’s enough to stop the penetration. But it also leaves Rondo on Kobe in the mid-post. Seeing the mismatch, the Celtics have to scramble. Kevin Garnett shades towards Bryant, meaning Davis has to rotate off Lamar Odom to Pau Gasol on the right wing. Fish recognizes the overload, and goes away from it, swinging the ball from left to right. Artest takes Fisher’s pass and quickly sends the ball to Odom in the corner, marked by a recovering Davis. Odom makes an aggressive baseline move and finishes at the rim with the left hand.

Because the Celtics had been moving around so much, it was difficult for anyone to help Davis on the play. So the set didn’t produce a shot for Fisher, but again it leads to a great opportunity for the Lakers, who now lead by four.

Six points off a set I’ve never actually seen them run, nor could anyone I spoke to after the game remember the Lakers using Fish and Kobe in a two-guard pick and roll. But it made sense. The Celtics couldn't switch, or they risked leaving Rondo on Bryant. If they didn't the Lakers knew Fisher would get a good look.

The germ of the idea could have come minutes earlier, when Fisher took a handoff from Kobe and was able to lose Rondo, earning himself space to shoot. He missed, but the penetration forced enough rotation from the Celtics that Andrew Bynum was left wide open on the weakside glass. Bynum got the board, but missed the layup. Still, it was a possession where the Lakers had two good shots, which is about two more than they had in the third quarter.

Clearly, they were taking notes.

Kudos to Phil Jackson, Kobe, and Fisher for recognizing what was there, and repeating it. I guarantee the Celtics weren’t expecting it (certainly not where Fisher becomes the attack option). In the time it took for them to figure out what to do Fisher was afforded good chances to score, which he converted. During the postseason, I think too many things are tossed into the Great Hopper of Adjustments. A team might miss a bunch of shots in one game, then make identical shots in the next. In the press conference, media, players, and coaches alike will then talk about the adjustments that were made when really a team just made shots previously bricked.

Others are more legitimate. Changing the way a player is defended, choosing different players to tweak the rotation, or in this case, breaking out a set at a critical moment nobody is expecting. Given time, the Celtics surely would have adjusted to the 1-2 P’n’R, but so late in the game there wasn’t any. It only needed to work a couple times to help swing the game.

A play here, a play there. It can be enough to change a game and a series.

Those minutes also reinforce also how the playoffs embody the great line from Michael McKeon’s David St. Hubbins in “This is Spinal Tap”: “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” Imagine the reaction this morning had those shots not gone down? How could the Lakers take the ball out of Kobe’s hands? How could they rely on a set they’ve never used? Asking Fisher to score off the dribble? On purpose? Really?

Instead, it worked. Fisher rightly was declared the hero, and the Lakers have a 2-1 series lead. Clever, indeed.